"On Nerd Entitlement"
The most widely-discussed rejoinder to Scott Aaronson's blog comment was published in The New Statesmen by Laurie Penny, a prolific journalist and author who identifies herself as a feminist and a geek. She begins by noting that she, too, found it harrowing to be a shy, nerdy teen with crippling social anxiety. "I was very clever and desperate for a boyfriend or, failing that, a fuck," she explained. "I would have done anything for one of the boys I fancied to see me not as a sad little boffin freak but as a desirable creature, just for a second. I hated myself and had suicidal thoughts. I was extremely lonely, and felt ugly and unloveable."
She battled severe anorexia and nearly died. And then, when she turned to "the life of the mind" as an escape, "I found sexism standing in my way. I am still punished every day by men who believe that I do not deserve my work as a writer and scholar."
Her first critique of his post is that he is mistaken to blame feminism for his travails:
I do not intend for a moment to minimise Aaronson's suffering. Having been a lonely, anxious, horny young person who hated herself and was bullied I can categorically say that it is an awful place to be. I have seen responses to nerd anti-feminism along the lines of "being bullied at school doesn't make you oppressed." Maybe it's not a vector of oppression in the same way, but it’s not nothing.
It burns. It takes a long time to heal. Feminism, however, is not to blame for making life hell for "shy, nerdy men." Patriarchy is to blame for that. It is a real shame that Aaronson picked up Andrea Dworkin rather than any of the many feminist theorists and writers who manage to combine raw rage with refusal to resort to sexual shame as an instructive tool. Weaponised shame - male, female or other - has no place in any feminism I subscribe to. Ironically, Aronson actually writes a lot like Dworkin - he writes from pain felt and relived and wrenched from the intimate core of himself, and because of that his writing is powerfully honest, but also flawed. The thing is that the after effects of trauma tend to hang around long after the stimulus is past.
She goes on to argue that Aaronson makes a leap from his own, relatively unusual story of teenage misery "to a universal story of why nerdy men are in fact among the least privileged men out there, and why holding those men to account for the lack of representation of women in STEM areas—in the most important fields both of human development and social mobility right now, the places where power is being created and cemented right now—is somehow unfair."
The past 30 years have witnessed what she calls "a major and specific reversal of social fortunes," explaining:
Two generations of boys who grew up at the lower end of the violent hierarchy of toxic masculinity—the losers, the nerds, the ones who were afraid of being creeps—have reached adulthood and found the polarity reversed... they're the ones with the power and the social status. Science is a way that shy, nerdy men pull themselves out of the horror of their teenage years. That is true. That is so. But shy, nerdy women have to try to pull themselves out of that same horror into a world that hates, fears and resents them because they are women, and to a certain otherwise very intelligent sub-set of nerdy men, the category 'woman' is defined primarily as 'person who might or might not deny me sex, love and affection.'
She insists upon a distinction between possessing privilege and being vulnerable to suffering:
Hi there, shy, nerdy boys.
Your suffering was and is real. I really fucking hope that it got better, or at least is getting better. At the same time, I want you to understand that that very real suffering does not cancel out male privilege, or make it somehow alright.
Privilege doesn't mean you don't suffer, which, I know, totally blows.
She asks Scott Aaronson to consider that she grew up anxious and suicidal, then "had to put up with structural misogyny" as well. "This is why Silicon Valley is fucked up," she asserts. "It's built and run by some of the most privileged people in the world who are convinced that they are among the least. People whose received trauma makes them disinclined to listen to pleas from people whose trauma was compounded by structural oppression. People who don't want to hear that there is anyone more oppressed than them, who definitely don't want to hear that maybe women and people of colour had to go through the hell of nerd puberty as well, because they haven't recovered from their own appalling nerdolescence. People who definitely don’t want to hear that, smart as they are, there might be basic things about society that they haven’t understood, because they have been prevented from understanding by the very forces that caused them such pain."